The Sense of an Ending, a 150-page novella by Julian Barnes, has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction, considered to be the most prestigious fiction book award in the UK. Barnes has been shortlisted three times before (for Flaubert’s Parrot in 1984, England, England in 1998, Arthur and George in 2005), but never won. The winning title, announced last night, was chosen from an initial list of 138 titles, from which a longlist of 13 titles was announced in July and a shortlist of the following six books was announced in September:
- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
- Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate)
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Granta Books)
- Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail)
- Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
- Snowdrops by A D Miller (Atlantic Books)
There was surprise that Alan Hollinghurst’s highly praised new novel The Stranger’s Child was not on the shortlist which the Booker judges claimed favoured ‘readable’ works. The Booker Prize has faced mounting criticism leading to a proposed new book award—The Literature Prize—planned to start next year. The new prize would not be afraid to favour ‘challenging’ reads and would be open to all English writing (notably American writers who are not eligible for the Man Booker) and ‘genre’ fiction (for example science fiction or crime of the required quality) which tends to be ignored and judges as not ‘literature’. Ironically, this year’s winner Julian Barnes himself said of the Booker in 1987 in the London Review of Books: “the only sensible attitude to the Booker is to treat it as posh bingo.” He may have changed his mond now, and he can console himself with his earlier win of the David Cohen Prize for Literature.
For an alternative take on the Booker, The Guardian has again run its ‘Not the Booker Prize’ which follows identical rules, but books are voted for by members of the public. Its shortlist is a totally different list of six books from the official Booker (but no Hollingsworth, or anything particularly well known). Barnes and Noble, an American book chain, has a summary of every Booker winner in 25 words each.
It seems that Hollingsworth will get another shot at a prize this year: he is shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards UK Author of the Year—a list which resembles what (I imagine) might have been a Booker shortlist to satisfy the critics. However, as The Observer points out: great literature will live on with or without a prize.
With book prizes now covering virtually any type of book you can buy, they are at least useful for buying those Christmas book presents for relatives. For instance, we have recently had the Forward Poetry Prize (winner: John Burnside), the Wellcome Trust Book Prize (books on medicine and health – shortlist), the Crime Writers Association ‘dagger awards (winners), the William Hill Sports Book of the Year (longlist), the Royal Society Winton Prize For Science Books (shortlist), the Roald Dahl Funny Prize (shortlist), the CMI Management Book of the Year (shortlists), the Mind Book of the Year (mental health – shortlist), The Guardian First Book Award (longlists)… And that’s only the more high profile UK book prizes announced this autumn!
The library will, as in past years, acquire the six shortlisted Man Booker titles. Last year’s winner of the Man Booker was The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson.